Blog post written by Jasmine Hirtz for Ebony & Ivory Lingerie
Ever wondered why African fabrics are so full of colour and imagery? It’s because there is an entire storyline going on between the folds. Language on the continent of Africa is in no way restricted to black and white letters on a piece of paper. Their culture is so emotional and is guided by strong moral beliefs, words just aren’t enough, so they speak their truth through print and symbolism. The result includes something Africans can’t live without; vibrance.
Let’s dive into the history of Ankara fabrics, popularized by the inspiring businesswomen known as Nana Benz. These women began selling in Lomé, Togo, in the 1930s and rose to find themselves among the continents first millionaires - and the first in Africa to own a Mercedes Benz, hence their name. Take a moment to ponder how these women accomplished such success against any and all odds, they are a true example of bravery and hard work for the women of Togo, Africa and beyond. These women were also referred to as Mama Benz, a name full of respect, love, and accomplishment.
So, how did they do it?
The Nana Benz would listen to their clients hopes and desires and then prescribe them a print that would express these feelings. There was – and still is – a print to indicate pregnancy. The Lustful Eye worn by a woman expresses her feeling of desire for a certain man, wearing this print could be her way of casually letting him know. The meaningful Ankara wax prints are endless, they speak about family structures, adultery, wisdom for the next generation, and on and on.
Although the Nana Benz lost their monopoly on Ankara prints in the 90’s, their stories live on. The Ankara prints they nurtured in Togo have now reached all edges of the earth. Rihanna wore Ankara during her visit to the White House. Stella Jean, the designer of Rihanna’s outfit, hosts a number of Ankara prints on her Milan runway every season.
Ankara is actually a more recent example of African culture in print, they’ve been weaving proverbs into Kente cloth since the 17th century. It is possible that the meaning of a design evolves, as seen with the graduation stole. This design began as a symbol of strength. The graduates adopted this design as it best represented the strength it took to get through school. Many wearing the stole were graduating outside of the African continent and so it became a symbol of African pride.
Although the Nana Benz enjoyed having a monopoly on Ankara sales, it was never intended for these prints to remain in Africa. The design, technique and production actually came out of Indonesia and The Netherlands. We are going to be seeing more and more African vibrance in the mainstream as the African Diaspora gain influence. When adopting African prints into your everyday, enjoy knowing each print has a meaning, each colour has a feeling. If you don’t know the meaning or origin, go ahead and ask because the more a story is told, the more alive it becomes.
At Ebony & Ivory, we’ve been inspired by the meaning behind Afro-Caribbean symbols. The Adinkra Duafe symbol means femineity, the Fawohodie symbol means freedom. Together, they speak about female emancipation and it is this combination that makes up our Adinkra print. The stories of our signature prints are written on our site so anyone who’s interested can get to know the meaning behind Ebony & Ivory.